The Relationship Foundation Equips Students with Communication Skills

Social-emotional curriculum strengthens resilience, enhances critical thinking

Are you in a relationship?

No, I’m not asking if you’re dating anyone.

Michael Jascz, founder and executive director of The Relationship Foundation, says a relationship doesn’t have to be romantic. You’re in a relationship with your mother, or father, or grandparents, or co-workers—the people who are in your life.

According to The Relationship Foundation, research shows that more than 75% of mental health disorders have their roots in childhood and adolescence, yet millions of children never receive any kind of social-emotional instruction.

The Relationship Foundation’s mission is to fill that need. A nonprofit educational initiative, this foundation has developed a social and emotional learning—or SEL—curriculum called Healthy Relationships 101, which is taught in middle and high schools nationwide.

“We basically teach a communications skill set that allows students to articulate their needs without blame or judgment,” Jascz says. “We also teach empathetic listening.”

Listening sounds easy, but most of us don’t do it. “If somebody says they didn’t get enough sleep last night, the people listening to him will probably engage in what we call ’empathy blocking.'” Students using the curriculum will, in pairs, practice the various ways of blocking an empathetic response:

  • By one-upping: You think you’ve got it bad? I haven’t slept in weeks!
  • By fixing: There’s a great book you should read on getting enough sleep.
  • By discounting: Shouldn’t you just be glad you’ve got a bed?

Other responses, just as unhelpful, include consoling and analyzing—all of which turn the attention back on the listener.

“We naturally do this one-upping, analyzing, or discounting. We make it about us when we could just simply say, ‘I hear you. Tell me more,’ or in response to difficult or tragic news, ‘I don’t know what to say, but I’m just glad you told me,'”Jascz says.

Jascz spent 15 years as a relationship coach before developing the course for schools in response to the demand. The course has been taught as a component of health education in 16 schools, including the Harlem Children’s Zone and two colleges.

“We teach a powerful process that starts to erode that reflexive, judging behavior,” Jascz says. “Over time, it actually changes neural pathways.”

By providing an extensive vocabulary with which they can describe their feelings, both students and teachers say that critical thinking, empathy, and respect are all enhanced.

To order Jascz’s book, Healthy Relationships 101, and read the list of empathy blockers and the vocabulary list of Needs and Feelings, visit the website of The Relationship Foundation.

 Check out the video below.



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